Denver Catholic school doubled enrollment in one year by introducing classical curriculum

At CNA we find a helpful, hopeful story about a school in Colorado.

Here is a taste, but it is worth reading in full over there.

Classical education enlivens Denver Catholic school
By Carl Bunderson

Denver, Colo., Oct 16, 2012 / 03:03 am (CNA).- Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School based in Denver, Colo., has nearly doubled its enrollment in just one year by introducing a classical curriculum.

“This is something people want, and they’ve wanted it for a long time, and now it’s available,” principal Rosemary Anderson told CNA Oct. 10.

Our Lady of Lourdes is a pre-kindergarten through eighth grade school. The parish’s pastor, Monsignor Peter Quang Nguyen, had helped turn around a number of schools in the Archdiocese of Denver which had been in danger of closing. He was assigned to Lourdes five years ago.

When Msgr. Quang hired Anderson to be principal in 2010, the school was in “quite a bit of debt” and had only 104 students enrolled. That figure is 180 today.

The school’s capacity is 235 and Anderson believes that by the next school year, “we’ll have to start wait-listing kids.”


Anderson noted that classical education is meant to help students learn how to think, rather than merely teaching them “subjects.” The program at Lourdes school was inspired by 20th century author Dorothy Sayers’ essay “The Lost Tools of Learning,” and the work of Laura Berquist, who was involved in the founding of Thomas Aquinas College – a Catholic university in southern Calif. which uses the classical model.  [These names just keep coming up!  And if you have not read Sayer’s essay, then… read it!]


Anderson was encouraged to differentiate her school, and with the “support and knowledge”of Bishop James D. Conley – former apostolic administrator of the archdiocese – chose to follow this approach to education as a way of imparting to students the art of learning.  [As I understand it, Bp. Conley was greatly influenced by the late Dr. John Senior, Classics prof at KU.  He also influenced those who founded Wyoming Catholic College.]

“The classical approach is Catholic, through and through,” said Anderson. While “other schools are doing great things,” “no other Catholic schools in the diocese are doing this yet.”

The school’s re-organization will be a three-year process. The first year, which is occurring presently, involves a re-vamp of the English department and the introduction of Latin classes.

Latin was introduced in place of Spanish because of its importance as the basis of all Romance languages. Students “logically process things better when they know Latin,” said Anderson. She pointed to high school freshmen who “test into honors French, without having had any French before, just by knowing the root language.”

Latin is important for the grammar stage of the trivium because its nouns decline, or change their ending according to function they are performing in a sentence. This helps students to better understand how languages work, and it is coupled with the memorization of poetry.


There is quite a bit more of this encouraging article.

Are you parents of small children?

Think about this.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Theodore says:

    All of my children had classical trivium based education. It is the greatest educational bequest I could have given them.

  2. flyfree432 says:

    The question is, how does one give them such an education with no money? A private Catholic education is impossible for most employees of Catholic churches.

  3. contrarian says:

    Good Lord, this is marvelous. Let’s hope that this catches on, and the current (train wreck) education model is one of the many places in Catholic life where we look back years from now and say, “Geez…what we were thinking?”

  4. pberginjr says:

    I don’t have an EdD to be a school principal or anything, but I would be very happy to work on bringing this about in my diocese and teach (music or Latin) in a school like this.

  5. PeterK says:

    here is a link to the Lost Tools of Learning

  6. guatadopt says:

    I am the father of 5 (soon to be 6) children age 7 and under. I took Latin in high school in the late 90’s and kept up with it afterward on my own in college (my college didn’t offer it). I also, before I had kids, learned Koine Greek…I plan to teach my children at least the basics of both languages. In the Catholic school my older two children attend, they start Spanish in the 2nd grade, which I think is great because they were born in Guatemala. But I just feel that learning the classical languages makes you a better thinker overall.

  7. Johnno says:

    Basic Apologetics courses about the Catholic Faith, the Bible, Church History, the Inquisition, the Crusades, and the scientific evidence and philosophical arguments for Creation and increasingly now, Geocentrism, should also be made available and also taught in Catholic Schools. All this goes hand in hand with critical thinking skills!

  8. LaxMom25 says:

    I homeschool my three youngest while my two oldest have moved onto Catholic high school. Both the high schoolers study Latin. My freshman son was watching the debate when the issue of “education” and the apparently-unacceptable use of 20-year-old textbooks came up. He joked that his Latin text is 75 years old (Henle) but seems to be quite alright. As a homeschooler, we have tried various approaches to include classical-based; this year we are working with a program called Aquinas Learning, a classical curriculum which includes one day per week in a classroom setting with other Aquinas students. We use Lost Tools of Writing, Latina Ponti, and all sorts of other goodies. There are other home-based classical education programs available to those who don’t have a solid, classical, Catholic school nearby but want the education for their kiddos. Laura Berquist’s books and curriculum are a great source of support and information.

  9. Luvadoxi says:


  10. Katheryn says:

    I opted to send my children to a secular Classics based school over our parish school. If our parish school had a curriculum like the school mentioned, I would go there in a heartbeat. Alas, they bend over for state and federal testing, and use computers and media to teach much of the reading and English lessons.
    I received a Classical high school education and it has tons of benefits.

  11. APX says:

    Wow, and here we seem to be going into the opposite direction. Now students can pick and choose which subjects they want to take in school based on what they like and dislike. Don’t like math? No problem! Just don’t take it. I know the public schools where I grew up no longer deduct marks or give zeros for late assignments or not doing homework. Red pens and X’s are no longer permissible when correcting students’ work because it has been deemed “too negative”.

    I graduated in 2003 and we didn’t even really ever learn grammar in school with the exception of grade 11 English when we were taught the parts of speech. These kids are going to be more intelligent after they graduate from high school than most people graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in Arts and Crafts sorry, Science these days. The only reason I can read and write properly is because my mom’s a teacher and made sure I could read and write before I started school and forced me to spend several hours with flashcards and grammar worksheets when I was a kid.

  12. wmeyer says:

    APX, you can thank John Dewey for the long downward path in public and even Church education. His theory was to use the schools to train obedient worker citizens. For that purpose, higher degrees and exceptional skills take on negative values. Really smart students are disruptive; apply drugs.

    Of course, one reason employers like immigrants is that their schools have not been so damaged. I’ve heard teachers tell classes there is no need to learn to extract a root, as they can just use the calculator. One can only wonder who from among her students the teacher thinks will rise to design calculators in the future. And as most of the teachers are not much committed to faith, surely she cannot imagine calculators are a gift from the Almighty.

  13. Maria says:

    “Thomas Aquinas College – a Catholic university in southern Calif”. – Santa Paula, CA. I am driving 67 miles one way to hear EF every Sunday. It is a Catholic school run by lay people.

  14. pberginjr says:

    @ wmeyer

    APX, you can thank John Dewey for the long downward path in public and even Church education.

    Thanks for saying something about Dewey. I’ve disliked his theories since I learned them in undergrad. His library cataloging system is junk to0 (I much prefer LC cataloging). Oh, actually that’s Melvil Dewey; it’s still junk.

  15. chantgirl says:

    This is wonderful! We homeschool because there is no school around us like this. I would seriously consider sending the older ones to a traditional school with a curriculum like this (if it was affordable for a family with many bambini). For more that homeschoolers with a classical bent might like: (they have great texts and workbooks for Greek mythology, Latin, and
    history) (Angelicum Academy) ( Catholic Heritage Curricula has the best junior high history texts I have yet found- From Sea to Shining Sea, A Light to the Nations etc.) (courses in logic and Latin, Greek) Fr. Fessio offers a very affordable online liberal arts college program that runs less than $8,000 per year. A brick-and-mortar Catholic college in Texas. The students go to a daily EF, have a daily apologetics class in addition to their regular classes. I have heard that they are considering forgiving the debts of students who go on to become priests.

    I’m sure that other homeschoolers could chime in with more resources. I have noticed a trend that even Protestant homeschoolers are getting into this sort of classical schooling. Here in St. Louis, the Christian co-ops are starting to include Classical Conversations classes. I also have to encourage parents to read classics and more difficult texts aloud to their children on a regular basis. Even if you think that the vocabulary or style may be a little over their heads, they learn so much from hearing good literature read aloud, and can pick up many things based on context. I also second the use of memorization – their young minds memorize so easily!

  16. chantgirl says:

    Oh, and for those who need some help teaching grammar, I found these to be wonderful!

  17. AnnAsher says:

    Yes! Yes! Yes! Thank you Fr Z! Thank you Wmeyer. I need at nothing to what has been said, except yes and Amen!

  18. APX says:

    Oh, and for those who need some help teaching grammar, I found these to be wonderful!

    When I used to tutor students, I became tired of proofreading their essays littered with grammar mistakes. I sent them to the link below to learn and practice their grammar skills. OWL is very easy to use and best of all, it’s free!

    Now, if only there was something like that for me for Latin. Grr!! I suck at Latin!

  19. The Masked Chicken says:

    More than most, here, I have a right to decry the state of modern secular education – I see the sad results in my classrooms, everyday. I read the Sayers article a few years, ago, and since I have studied some of the history of modern and Medieval education as well as done research in problem-solving theory (humor processing is a form of problem-solving, after all) and taught homeschool students, I thought I might make some comments. One can truly say that the difference between classical and modern education is the same difference as that between chant and pop music for the Mass.

    Sayer’s article is interesting, but it needs some revisions. If mathematics could be simply taught syllogistically, for instance, as she suggests, we could, in principle, all be able mathematicians; if history were simply a matter of seeking motivations and consequences of actions, we could, in principle, all be historians, etc. She talks a great game about how skilled the Classical scholars were, but she never seems to mention that there were failures, as well. There is a reason I will never be a good artist, no matter how much organized training I receive. There is a reason that I am a marginal composer, but a talented musicologist. She seems to leave off the important subject of talent. St. John Vianney simply had a hard time with learning Latin. No Triviuum education would have changed that.

    Classical Triviuum training is not a Medieval invention, as Wikipedia would have you believe, but the systematic training of children comes from the Greeks and was adopted by the Romans. It has, as its purpose, the formation of an orderly and structured way of thinking. As I mentioned in my long comments on Mass music, any sort of patterned activity in the young (the brain is highly plastic up until about 23 years of age) will improve mental processing. The Triviuum is composed of those topics most likely to be of use to the average person given to philosophical or theological thoughts, which were the common coin of the day in pre-Renaissance Europe (not having an experimental science until the early Medieval period, as Duhem showed). It is not the only way to form patterned responses in the young brain, but it does build on pre-existing resources, since reading and writing – forms of communication – are necessary in any culture.

    Dewey’s big flaw is not that he proposed training obedient students for the State, but, rather, that he was an atheist, who had no higher authority than the State on which to ground his obedience. Indeed, if he had been an ardent Catholic, his proposed methods would have come much closer to sounding like the early Parochial school training in the 1820’s in the U. S. than they do. Secular obedience leads, eventually, to disobedience, because there is nothing behind it except a random human impulse setting arbitrary and contradictory rules. Religious obedience is orderly and peaceful, being established by a pure and simple Natural Law.

    I don’t want to get into a huge analysis of when and where classical and non-classical educations are appropriate. I write comments that are too long, anyway, but I will say that there is as much love among the modern neo-atheism movement for classical logic as among Christian homeschoolers – education has not really improved much since the time of Socrates, since he had the good fortune of getting it right from the start. The difference lies in the axioms on which the logic is employed.

    I have way too much to say, since I think about this topic almost every day, but I will spare you anything more. I am all for a Classical education, but it is not a be-all and end-all panacea. One has to be careful to look at why it works and abstract the best from it.

    The Chicken

  20. The Masked Chicken says:


    I just posted a reply to your cry for a comparable site for help with Latin. It is in moderation.

  21. Pingback: WEDNESDAY EVENING EDITION | Big Pulpit

  22. Johnno says:


    At first I also scratched my head at the thought, now considered so ‘heretical’ to the scientific establishment on par with their dogmatic faith in Darwinian evolution. But nothing surprises me anymore. The facts are that the debate between the geocentrists and heliocentrists was never settled. Scientists increasingly in seeking to distance themselves from the Church and God simply adopted the position of heliocentrism all while freely admitting they had no proof. No one could dispute that Tycho Brahe’s geocentric model perfectly accounted for all of the supposed proofs awarded to heliocentrism that children are taught to parrot today as ‘facts.’ Including the facts that all other associated phenomena such as coriolis forces is also accounted for in the modern geocentric models. When thousands of interferometer experiments failed to detect the Earth’s velocity around the sun, they desperately reinvented physics to ridiculous lengths through Relativity to escape the obvious conclusion. Now with Quantum Mechanics making inroads and Relativity increasingly coming into scrutiny for holding science back and being prepared for a quiet funeral, scientists will have to return back to facing the embarrasing possibility that the Inquisition and the Popes were correct. Right now NASA is scratching their heads at the data from the CMB mapping and other amazing evidence that has literally been drawing them a picture of what our universe looks like… with the planet Earth in a central and special place smack dab in the center of a cosmos that is paying homage to it. All exciting stuff that they’d prefer the public don’t know and keep out of the textbooks as much as possible and label the debate as a ‘philosophical one.’ If you want to learn more, I recommend picking up Robert Sungenis’ book:

    This amongst a wealth of other information is what we should be exposing ourselves and our children to. For far too long we have let secularists and atheists dictate what we are allowed to believe and teach. Here in Canada, our minister of education in our province had the gall to use the gay-bullying bills they forced into the Catholic Schools to also stop teaching pro-life attitudes to our children. It’s time to pull the rug out from under their feet, academically, philosophically, scientifically, logically. Everything belongs to Christ and it’s time we let them know it!

  23. benedetta says:

    The homeschool curriculum we use, Angelicum, was founded on the same principles of classical education. Overall, this sort of approach encourages critical inquiry over the types of standard based curricula popular in state education departments. It encourages original analysis of a problem rather than memorizing previously accepted solutions.

  24. Sissy says:

    Chicken said: “I write comments that are too long, anyway”

    Well, now you’ve gone and said something with which I must disagree!!

  25. xgenerationcatholic says:

    The brain is highly plastic until age 23. No hope for me?

  26. Suburbanbanshee says:

    The brain is always highly plastic. What we lose in flexibility and ease of memorization, we gain in general experience with learning stuff and a greater ease in making connections. Adults, even elderly adults, can learn new skills and hobbies and fields of knowledge. You just need to stick to it and work at it.

    That said, doing something completely different is often what makes the brain grow most. If you’ve never taken up an instrument or learned a language or taken up a craft, you’re going to practically feel your brain making new connections when you start to try. It may be frustrating, but it will happen. Brains love this stuff.

  27. Phil_NL says:

    My only gripe with these kind of programs is that they tend to (no idea how it’s here, obviously) focus an awful lot on the processing skills related to language and the arts, and less on those of a more mathematical nature.

    Some people – mainly boys in fact – just have limited talents in linguistic areas (let alone music), but do a whole lot better when we move to numbers. Latin of course has the advantage of being a highly grammatical and structured language, and therefore offering an advantage over some modern languages in that sense, but still the point remains: you want to adress those talents as well; not every is destined for a liberal arts education.
    Also, you can give the kids even more of an advantage if they are thought a goodly dose of science (especially physics and chemistry, and at a theoretical level, not focussing on things that go boom), accounting (not the sustainability bla-bla, but good oldfashioned bookkeeping) and economics. These sciences allow the kids to put into practice their acquired skills and build on them. At the end of the day, abstract reasoning and problem-solving are the skills you really need, but especially the latter requires that you can spot the critical elements and find the right tool. For that one needs much more than the – again, in my experience – mainly linguistic / artistic setting.

  28. SPWang says:

    Fly free 423 and any others interested – there is a possibility you should look into if you are genuinely interested in a affordable classical education for your kids. Check out CLAA ( the Classical Liberal Arts Academy they are committed to making a classical education accessible and affordable for large families or those on a tight budget. It is currently predominantly for homeschoolers BUT they are in the process of starting schools, which was the initial intention. So look at the website and get in contact with them.

    In Xto

  29. The Masked Chicken says:

    The brain is always highly plastic.

    Sorry. I was using the term technically (neuoplasticity is a hot topic in neuroscience). The young brain is highly plastic. The older brain is still plastic, but to a lesser degree. You can read about it, here:

  30. The Masked Chicken says:

    italics, off

  31. The Masked Chicken says:

    Help! I’ve become italicized.

  32. Stop playing with the italics!


  33. LisaP. says:

    I think this is one great key:

    “It is not the only way to form patterned responses in the young brain, but it does build on pre-existing resources, since reading and writing – forms of communication – are necessary in any culture.”

    I’ve seen lots of different kinds of ed work with home school families, there are a lot of paths to Rome there. These programs are great, others can be great, too. It’s thrilling to see a parochial school go this way not because it’s classical ed in itself, but because it is breaking free from being just a copycat of the public schools with religious ed tacked on. In embracing different methodologies from the public schools we reinforce our own belief and our message that the purpose of education for us is different than the purpose of education for Dewey or for Bismark or for Arne Duncan.

    I do see some hazard in hitching your wagon to any one educational model, but the benefits far outweigh the risks and folks who are able to think outside the box enough to go this way are likely to be more able to think outside the next box when and if it becomes necessary.

  34. The Masked Chicken says:

    Stop playing with the italics!

    I hang my beak in shame…

  35. jarhead462 says:

    I’m half Italic on my mother’s side.

    Semper Fi!

  36. The Masked Chicken says:

    A half-German would be a semi-Cologne.

  37. everett says:

    I work for a classically based home school program with roughly 2600 students K-12. The value in classical education is that it teaches students how to think, not what to think. To borrow from Martin Cothran, classical education teaches wisdom and virtue – how to think, and what to do. Modern education teaches students what to think, and how to do – indoctrination and placing them in a job.

  38. The Masked Chicken says:

    “The value in classical education is that it teaches students how to think, not what to think.”

    The modern secular analogue is so-called Constructivism, where students construct their knowledge by thought and experiment. That has pretty much failed in modern times. It doesn’t matter how well you can think if you have no data to play with. It is not wrong, sometimes, to tell a student to think that 2+2 = 4 (i.e, telling a student what to think), since there is no way they can prove that by themselves (unless they want to learn Peano Set Theory and re-discover Russell’s and Whitehead’s proof of about 500 pages from the Principia Mathematica). Is this indoctrination? Heck, yes. Not all indoctrination is bad. Learning the multiplication tables is a form of indoctrination, since I can define an algebra where 1 + 1 = sqrt(2). Wisdom is not the process of learning how to think; it is the process of learning how to think correctly. What is counted as correct depends on the discourse domain. It is great wisdom to know that 1 + 1 = 2 if you are an accountant, but it is not so helpful for an abstract mathematician.

    Learning logic is an essential prerequisite for higher explorations, but at some point, one must grow suspicious that not everything can be solved by logic. Godel proved that or mathematics. Young children need training, but the sort of training in logic they receive is still a form of indoctrination. I do not agree that indoctrination is always bad. It is only bad when it does not tend towards the truth.

    The Chicken

    The Chicken

  39. The Masked Chicken says:

    Should read:

    Godel proved that for systems of arithmetic.

  40. wmeyer says:

    Chicken, one of the great failings in current education is that they ask children to form opinions on things of which they have learned nothing.

    In the beginning, the student is a sponge, soaking up knowledge. When sufficient knowledge has been acquired, and given that the student has been instructed in such a fashion as to develop skills in logic and reasoning, the student may then form opinions which have validity.

    While it is true that not everything can be solved by logic, it is equally true that lacking logic and reason, little or nothing can be solved.

  41. Katheryn says:

    Wow, that abstract math comment brought me right back to my classical hs Ed. The culmination of our calculus class was that the teacher lead us through the proof that 1+1=2. Then we realized that we could make it equal three too… It was mind blowing, unlike trig…. Mind numbing…

  42. everett says:

    Chicken, I agree that not all indoctrination is wrong. But what you’re talking about is the memorization of various facts, which corresponds to the grammar portion of the trivium. The issue is the memorization not of facts, but of the kind of conditioning such as is practiced regarding promotion homosexual “marriage” and the acceptability of certain types of lifestyles.

  43. The Masked Chicken says:

    “Chicken, I agree that not all indoctrination is wrong. But what you’re talking about is the memorization of various facts, which corresponds to the grammar portion of the trivium. The issue is the memorization not of facts, but of the kind of conditioning such as is practiced regarding promotion homosexual “marriage” and the acceptability of certain types of lifestyles.”

    I know. That’s why I said the indoctrination must tend towards truth or else it is morally dangerous. Instructing the ignorant is a spiritual work of mercy. Instructing them in a falsehood is no mercy. It is sin and violence to the student.

    “In the beginning, the student is a sponge, soaking up knowledge. When sufficient knowledge has been acquired, and given that the student has been instructed in such a fashion as to develop skills in logic and reasoning, the student may then form opinions which have validity.”

    Of course. Students also often confuse opinion with facts, too.

    I am having a neck spasm, so typing might have to be forgone the rest of the evening.

  44. Laura98 says:

    Oh…don’t even get me started on education! LOL … I’ll just say, I wish more people had choices of a school like this (and could afford it). But alas, the Catholic schools in my area are all on the Constructivist path. I know, I tried. We ended up homeschooling my daughter, one of the reasons being the lack of a decent curriculum in any school (except a few charter schools).

    I have to say the choices available to homeschoolers today are just amazing (and sometimes overwhelming). There’s no reason why parent’s today can’t give their kids a Classical Education or at least a better education (if they want to after-school). Memoria Press ( offers some of the best classical education curriculum for K-12 out there. Even though my daughter has Asperger’s, we’ve been able to use their products (with adaptations) just fine. We combine their products with Catholic homeschool products from Seton Home School and Catholic Heritage Curricula. There are many other Catholic providers as well, some mentioned before. I’ve had to make my own curriculum, adapting it for our situation, and changing it as something worked or did not work. I think for any homeschooler, no matter the type of homeschooling you do, it is a learning process. But, I wouldn’t go back to a regular school now for the world.

    @pberginjr: John Dewey didn’t invent the Dewey Decimal System … he’s the guy who wrote about the education system, etc. Melvil Dewey is the guy who invented the cataloging system. They are often confused though…

  45. Matt R says:

    This is interesting. Perhaps I’m too dismissive of classical edu., but as a 17-year old, the only subject I’d like to take on its own would be Latin. I would, however, like to read material such as the works of Aristotle and Plato independently (where appropriate in the curriculum) and incorporate them into discussions of other works.

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